mother tongue

From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search



From Middle English mother tonge, modyr tong, equivalent to mother +‎ tongue. Compare Old Norse móðurtunga (mother tongue).



mother tongue (plural mother tongues)

  1. The language one first learned; the language one grew up with; one's native language.
    Synonyms: first language, mother language, native language, native tongue, L1
    Antonym: father tongue
    His mother tongue is a relatively conservative dialect of Aramaic.
    • 1958, Anthony Burgess, The Enemy in the Blanket (The Malayan Trilogy), published 1972, page 277:
      One young Tamil teacher had assimilated the sound-system of English so thoroughly to that of his mother-tongue that none of the Chinese and Malay children understood him.
    • 1973, Noel Pitts Gist, Roy Dean Wright, Marginality and Identity, →ISBN:
      Throughout their long history as a minority, Anglo-Indians learned their "father tongue" but were indifferent to their "mother tongue," an indigenous Indian language.
    • 1993, Janice Rae Williamson, Sounding differences: conversations with seventeen Canadian women writers, →ISBN:
      A father tongue is a foreign language, therefore English is a foreign language not a mother tongue.
    • 2011, Wendy Doniger, The Implied Spider, →ISBN, page 144:
      Ramanujan has also argued that many Hindu men have both a mother tongue (the everyday language, such as Tamil, spoken by women downstairs, in the back, in the kitchen) and a father tongue (once Sanskrit, more recently English, the literary lingua franca spoken—or at least discussed—by men in the front rooms).
    • 2012, Máiréad Nic Craith, Narratives of Place, Belonging and Language, →ISBN:
      In the early Middle Ages, 'mother tongue' was largely 'a pejorative term to describe the unlearned language of women and children' (Haugen 1991: 82). This reflected the low status of women in society and contrasted with Latin, the more prestigious 'father tongue' on the continent.
  2. The language spoken by one’s ancestors.
  3. The language spoken by one's mother, when it differs from that spoken by one's father.
    Antonym: father tongue
    • 2006, Yo Jackson, Encyclopedia of Multicultural Psychology, →ISBN:
      Questions about respondents' place of birth, their parents' place of birth, nativity, and language use (called “mother tongue” and “father tongue”) were added to the Census between 1850 and 1960.
    • 2008 -, Xiao-Lei Wang, Growing Up with Three Languages: Birth to Eleven, →ISBN, page 58:
      Informed by the experience of other parents who had successfully raised their children with more than one language and our own observations, we knew clearly that Léandre and Dominique's mother tongue and father tongue would not have a chance without deliberate 'control' of their linguistic environment.
  4. Informal speech, as opposed to educated language.
    Antonym: father tongue
    • 1854, Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods:
      The other is the maturity and experience of that; if that is our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in order to speak.
    • 1992, Gail B. Griffin, Calling : essays on teaching in the mother tongue, page 169:
      We learn the father tongue to prove we have outgrown the mother tongue.
    • 2017, Andrew Norris, Becoming Who We Are, →ISBN:
      In each case, we are reborn -- a fact that explains Thoreau's preference here for the father tongue over the mother tongue, as Cavell explains: "A son of man is born of woman; but rebirth, according to our Bible, is the business of the father."


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]